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"Lights in the Dark"

Lights in the Dark

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Author's Notes

-=Chapter 3: On Christmas Day=-

"Merry Christmas, darling!" Lorna Dane brightly said to Alex Summers.

X-Factor's plane was descending towards the North American coast from its sub-orbital flight, so its pilots and passengers could start thinking in terms of Eastern Standard Time, six hours behind the time zone from which they had left, shortly before 11 p.m. CET. They had not flown full thrust, wanting to save on fuel, and now it was shortly after midnight on Christmas Day 1997 on the East Coast.

"Merry Christmas, Lorna." Havok, the pilot, was not really in a holiday mood. He had not slept well on the last afternoon in Hamburg, and for much of the first half of the flight there had been some distracting noises from behind the door of the passenger compartment. "Couldn't those two have been a little quieter?" he grumbled.

Polaris, who had just turned back to the book she was reading, had not paid attention to the last remark. "What did you just say, Alex?" Reasoning that Forge's sophisticated computer guidance system really made the co-pilot redundant, Lorna Dane had taken the opportunity to catch up on her academic reading, something she preferred to do with music playing from the headphone plugged into her left ear. Consequently she had not noticed to the sounds emanating from the interior of the plane behind her.

Alex Summers was about to repeat what he had said before, but now he felt rather churlish to complain about Mystique and Dr. Cooper enjoying themselves and said nothing. After all, he had said he was going to fly the plane, so he shouldn't really complain. And who knows, he might actually miss having passengers during the second stage of the trip, from New York to Alaska. That got him thinking of the impending visit to his grandparents' home in Anchorage, where he would be meeting his brother again. Not the best of years for the Summers family was 1997, what with the disappearance of Cable in the supernatural battle in Connecticut this July, and the subsequent crisis of Scott's marriage.

Scott had taken the news very hard that his son Nathan had been fused with his dark alter ego, Stryfe, to become the super-powerful Monarch in another reality. In his grief he took to visiting the grave of Nathan's mother, Madelyne, his first wife. Brooding over her death and her son's disappearance, he experienced a delayed reaction, all of a sudden the pent-up remorse over leaving Maddy to found X-Factor and be reunited with his first love, burst forth. For the longest time he had dismissed Maddy from his thoughts, something that had been made easier by learning that she had been Jean Grey's clone and had died after striking a deal with a demon and trying to kill her own son, now suddenly he became obsessed with the woman who was so like and yet so unlike Jean. He agonized over the question about how big his responsibility was for putting a loving wife and mother on the slide that turned her into the vicious Goblin Queen.

His dark brooding did not make living with him any easier -- the shadow of Madelyne Pryor-Summers arose between Scott and Jean, in more senses than one. For, as she once confessed to Lorna, she now too was forced to look at what Scott had done (at the time it happened, Scott and his friends had been careful to keep his marriage and fatherhood a secret from her). She began to wonder what kind of a person her husband really was, if he could so completely abandon his wife and child -- leaving them without protection in the face of enemies who knew who he was, and even without leaving anything, such as a phone number, that would have enabled Maddy to contact him. This alienation and Scott's withdrawal into himself combined to draw them apart. They began to sleep in separate rooms, and for a while Scott even considered joining X-Factor, a prospect Alex did not exactly relish.

Then came a moment of weakness, in which Scott sought solace in the arms of Psylocke. Their teammates still wondered why she had done it (that Scott would be at least physically attracted to her was no mystery). Some thought that she had taken pity on him, others that she had been responding to the more basic urges and instincts of the body she had inherited from the assassin Kwannon. Both participants of the affair soon regretted it. The irony was of course that Betsy was to regret it more than Scott, for Scott's marriage already was going through a rocky patch when Jean discovered he had cheated on her, but now the romance between Psylocke and Archangel also came to a screeching halt. The air was rife with gossip, unkind comments ('Scott can resist anything but temptation') and rumors -- some of the more filthy-minded teammates even began to suggest that Jean might already have taken her revenge on Scott with Logan, who had been pining for her for years. Scott and Jean finally resolved to make an attempt to save their marriage, to go for professional counseling in the new year, but, unluckily for Betsy, Warren happened to run across Charlotte Jones the week he found out. And as he told her of his pain, he discovered that his old feelings for her had not entirely died. Now Warren was going to take her and her son Timmy on a Christmas vacation, and was quite intent on rekindling his romance with her, deciding that his involvement with Betsy had been a transitory passion, and not a real relationship. So Psylocke found herself at a loose end, at the moment.

Of course, under these circumstances Cyclops was simply too preoccupied to be an effective leader to the team. This time he realized it himself and stepped down voluntarily, leaving his colleague Storm in sole command at first. Ororo for a while considered to ask the Beast to cut short his stay with the Avengers to help her, but then she decided to appoint Rogue her deputy. Alex remembered how Raven had shown her foster daughter's letter around, in which Rogue wrote in a mixture of pride and amusement how Ororo had told her: "I think you're ready for leadership now. As you've been a bit of a headache for Scott and me this past year, going to Magneto behind our back and generally doing what you wanted, maybe it is time for you to look at the problems of discipline from the other side. See how you do with the shoe on the other foot." Actually the events of the preceding year had served to make Storm and Rogue grow closer.

The door at the back of the cockpit opened, and through it stepped Valerie Cooper and Mystique. Val's hair had a rather disheveled look and she looked somewhat hot and damp, while Raven looked as impeccable as only a shapechanger with supernormal control of many bodily functions can.

"Merry Christmas, you two," Valerie offered, quickly joined by Raven.

"Merry Christmas," Lorna wished them back.

"Merry Christmas," said Alex and could not resist to add: "Guess you've already seen to it that you got a good start for happy holidays?"

Valerie was a little embarrassed, but Raven was unfazed and grinned: "Well, heavy making out is a good therapy for a headaches and a sure way to prevent motion sickness. Said so in Cosmo, so it must be true."

Everybody laughed, and Alex added: "I'll be sure to remind Lorna of that the next time someone pilots us. So, ladies, we'll be arriving at Xavier International Airport in about 20 minutes."

It was still pitch black night when Havok and the three women de-planed in the underground hangar complex. They were met by Rogue, who was wearing a warm overcoat over her nightgown. The X-Factorites had arrived earlier than expected, but as soon as she heard the aircraft's roar, Rogue had flown to welcome the guests and show them to their rooms. The others were all asleep, only Dani Moonstar was still up, on duty in the communications center (which the more military minded -- such as Forge and Wolverine -- insisted on calling the War Room).

"Hope y'all had a good flight," she said, yawning profusely. "Sorry, bin a busy day. Alex 'n' Lorna, y'all go in the left door, the Darkhölme-Cooper party is to the right."

After seeing that Havok and Polaris had everything for their stop-over night, she joined Val and Raven for a quick look in Irene's room. The newly arrived parents were impatient to see their daughter. The little girl was fast asleep in her bed. They would have to wait until the morning.

In the meantime, Rogue sat down with the other two and filled them in about some recent events at the Mansion and the Academy, and in particular about her young sister's progress in learning to speak. Irene was slowly learning to form words with more than one syllable, but she persisted in addressing her siblings Rogue and Kurt as 'woa' and 'goor'. Valerie and Ray also had things to relate, but after half an hour Rogue decreed that it was time for everybody to go to their beds.

Then she did something totally unexpected. She kissed Mystique good night.

And nothing happened.

"Whu--?!" was all that came over Raven's lips.

Val was not appreciably more articulate: "How--?!"

Rogue grinned contentedly. "Mah li'l Christmas surprise. Magnus and me have been training for half a year now, an' with some help from Emma Frost an' Psylocke we finally licked the problem of me controllin' mah powers. Ah was gonna keep it a secret until the mornin', but then ah couldn't resist. An' ah wanted you t'be the first t'know."

"Child, I'm so happy for you," whispered Raven. As if in a daze, she put her arms around the girl she had chosen as her daughter.

Years ago, when Mystique still was the leader of the 'Brotherhood of Evil Mutants', Rogue had left her foster family to seek help because she could not control her powers and was driven almost insane by living with two personalities -- her own, and the one she had permanently absorbed from Carol Danvers. She joined the X-Men and there found a new purpose in life, even got some measure of relief for her mental problem, but ironically neither Professor Xavier nor the X-Men discovered a way for her to overcome the main problem that had caused her to ask them for help. The trouble with her double personality became better and worse over the years, until they were finally solved more or less accidentally, after she passed through the Siege Perilous and the two personas were reincarnated in two separate bodies ('Carol' then almost succeeded in killing Rogue, but luckily Magneto suddenly appeared and saved her). After that Rogue had been preoccupied with other things and lost sight of her goal of controlling her powers. It was a hectic time during which there was always some crisis or other in which the X-Men were involved, to say nothing of her romance with Gambit. For Rémy thought it suited his purposes if Rogue believed there was no way for her to control her powers (it eroded her self-confidence, and when she said to him: "How can ah ever love you, really love you, if ah can't trust you?", he could counter with "An' how can I ever love you, if I can't touch you?" to sidestep the question of his deliberately keeping her in the dark about his dark secrets, even though she was almost driven insane by the subconscious glimpses she had absorbed from him in their first and only kiss). But after Onslaught they finally had time to spare to address her problems, and Magneto was much more intent on helping her find one than any of her teammates ever had been. Elizabeth then suddenly remembered that Rogue, while under the control of her 'Carol' persona, had once touched her bare back with her bare hand with no ill effect, which indicated that the reason she could not control her powers was psychological. Professor X, who had lost his telepathic powers in the Onslaught crisis, was unable to help her, but luckily Psylocke and the White Queen could. But perhaps the main thing had been the fact that living with Magnus -- who could counteract her absorbing power by building up a biomagnetic field -- had helped her overcome her obsessive fear of being 'incurable.'

All this flashed before Rogue's mental eye, and not a little of it through the minds of Raven and Valerie. There were tears of joy in Raven's and Rogue's eyes at this moment they had been waiting for ever since Rogue had kissed Cody Robbins so many years ago.

Their emotions were contagious -- Valerie's eyes became misty and at last she cleared her throat and piped up: "Hey, no fair, I want a good-night kiss too!"

"I'm sorry, 'dad'," said Rogue, pulling Val into her and Raven's embrace and kissing her on the cheek. "But try and act surprised when I announce it to the others in the morning."

Christmas used to be one of those occasions when the Waltons-like aspects of the X-Men came to full bloom, but this year it was evident that Charles Xavier's 'family' was going through some changes. For instance, the two students who in the eyes of most were seen as his favorites, the ones who to him were as his children, were not only away, but on different coasts. As Scott and Jean's marriage had run aground in the fall, they did not spend the holidays together. Scott was in Anchorage with his grandparents, while Jean was at her parents' home in Annandale-on-Hudson.

Other X-people, such as Hank McCoy, Betsy Braddock and the Guthries also had left to be with their families, while Emma Frost was celebrating Christmas in Snow Valley with most of Generation X and Bobby Drake. Afterwards, Jono and Angelo would be accompanying Everett to his family home in St. Louis. Gambit had set out on a voyage of self-discovery and to take care of unfinished business after he had finally, and not too soon, come clean to his teammates about his sinister past. If it hadn't been for the inrush of visitors from X-Factor and Excalibur, the Mansion would have been a very empty place. Of the original five X-Men only Warren was present. Storm, the current sole leader of the team, was holding the fort, and so were Bishop (who had nowhere else to go), Rogue, Professor X and Dani Moonstar.

On the other hand, Irene Cooper was at the Mansion, and as the only child present she was automatically at the center of attention for the festivities. Once she woke, her parents took her downstairs to the parlor room, where the Christmas tree had been set up. The stockings hanging above the fireplace soon had the undivided attention of the blue-skinned, strawberry blonde little girl. Of course everyone had a present for her, but in spite of the huge pile of gifts she also was most determined to get at the Dresden china coffee-cups her foster-sister got from Valerie. But they simply were too delicate and fragile.

"Isn't it always the way," said Dani, "you always want what you can't have."

"At least when you're a little child," said Ororo.

Everyone was busy unwrapping presents and looking at everybody else's. Accustomed to real candles from his childhood, Kurt sniffed at the electric tree-lights, causing the older X-Men present to exchange amused glances -- that was one of the Yuletide complaints from their German former teammate they remembered only too well from the old days. They loved him for it.

Irene's presence also was the reason that more carols were sung this year than in 1996. She loved to hear her extended family sing, and at times even joined in herself. Although her language skills were still far from perfect, she had become quite adept at recognizing tunes and at 'singing' them out to indicate what song she wanted to hear from the grownups. Somewhat incongruously Irene's fiat also added the Maoz Tsur, Frère Jacques and Row, Row, Row Your Boat to this year's recitals.

After Rogue announced her success in learning to make skin-to-skin contact without absorbing the other person's memories and powers, and after everyone who wanted to tried it out themselves, the morning became more relaxed. The Salem residents had lots to talk about with their guests and each other, from politics to private affairs, shared reminiscences and more personal memories, speculations about what absent friends and old enemies might be up to during the holidays. Val and Ray, as usual, discussed movies they had seen recently, while Ororo and others asked Kurt and Amanda if they had already chosen a name for the child they were expecting.

Charles Xavier sat by the window in his hover-chair, talking with Magneto. He congratulated him on his, Emma's and Betsy's success with Rogue. "I really wish I could have helped too," he said, "but unfortunately our dark sides prevented that, old friend."

Magnus tried to comfort him: "You did what you could, Charles, and she appreciates that."

"Did I really?" Xavier wondered. "Then I'm not so sure if I can take that as much of a consolation." His smile was a little sad. "It wouldn't be the first time you saw my efforts as ineffectual."

Magnus had to smile at that, too. They had had their fights in the past, but they seemed less important these days. When the X-Men had started, it seemed that every young mutant was either a follower of Xavier or of himself, but these days the younger ones seemed to be less pliable, more intent to find their own way. Charles saw it with his X-Men -- especially the later recruits, but even some of the original five no longer followed him unquestioningly. And he saw it with Rogue, who even though she loved him deeply, was determined to be her own woman and do what she thought was right. Hmm, whatever Mystique's failings were as Rogue's surrogate mother, she had not raised her to be anyone's sheep. Maybe he should mention that the next time he talked with Raven alone. She'd enjoy hearing that...

Xavier went on: "She came to me for help, and yet there always seemed to be something I found more urgent than thinking of ways to help her. First there was the mystery of Madelyne Pryor, then Rachel appeared, we had to heal Roberto and Rahne and Piotr. And we could not have done that without Rogue..."

"Hey, Prof, ya had to set priorities." Rogue had silently come up towards the two from behind, something she could not have done if Professor X still had his psionic powers. "An' it was mah own fault -- maybe if'n ah had kvetched 'bout mah problem more ya would have put a bigger effort into solvin' it. But those were real emergencies ya were talkin' about."

Xavier raised an eyebrow. 'Kvetched'? Was this an effect of Rogue living with Magneto or was her residence in the New York region finally beginning to tell?

"An' ah had different priorities mahself, such as gettin' the others t'accept me, an' there ya were way ahead ot 'em." She put her ungloved hand on his.

He mused. Getting accepted? That was only part of it. In her first few weeks as an X-Man, she had endured terrible pain, risked lasting injury and being killed for people she barely knew and who were openly hostile to her. But it was very much like her not to make a big deal of that.

"'Sides, who says a cure was possible then, with me 'n' Carol always at each others' throats in m' mind? Rachel once tried it, but even with her powers boosted by the Beyonder she couldn't. Ah reckon it was only once ah made peace with Carol that ah had a chance, but by that time ya were in outer space with the Starjammers." She sighed. "An' if it's any consolation, ah could live with havin' t' wear gloves most of the time, leastways until ah became interested in Magnus an' later Rémy..." She walked over to Magneto and pecked him on the cheek before walking off to another group: "...and finally in Magnus again."

Lorna Dane was a little sorry that Bobby Drake, who in younger years had had a big crush on her, was not there. Hearing from Warren about Bobby's recent interest in the former White Queen however became a great pretext for virtually everyone to gossip about his love-life. Which, in spite of some people's reservations about Emma Frost, was a more pleasant subject than that of Lorna's 'in-laws'. But she and Alex could not tarry overlong and had to leave shortly after breakfast to take off on the second leg of their flight.

Pete Wisdom used seeing them off as a pretext to go outside for a smoke (although he usually hated fresh air). Some time back the Beast had declared the Mansion a smoke-free zone, and the resident non-smokers were only too glad to enforce that policy against the chain-smoking English mutant ex-secret agent. When he came back in, he grumbled about being allowed to light up "not even one bleedin' fag" inside to Kitty, who however (rather pointedly, he felt,) reminded him that there was a small child in the room. Still, she did cheer him up by promising to take him to Harry's Hideout tonight, after Hanukkah celebrations, so he could enjoy a few pints and a smoke in warm cosy surroundings and in her company.

"So, Pete," she added, "how have the X-Factor guys been treating you?"

"Oh, not bad, but that's 'cos they're not as close to you as some of the others. Now Storm and Charley, they've been going over me and our relationship in great detail. Guess they care about you, but it was a bit too much like an interrogation. And I should know, havin' been to my share of them, on both sides of the table."

Kitty smiled sympathetically. "Buck up, Pete, it's only a few more days. I warned you that a lot of people here look on me as a kind of younger sister or even daughter. At least it's not as if I were a Guthrie. Can you imagine what it would be like if Sam was my elder brother? Cause I don't think he'd be too happy if Paige started dating someone like you!"

Pete Wisdom could imagine too well. He had never told her, but when he and Kitty started getting serious about each other, the male members of Excalibur had once taken him aside and threatened to do all sorts of unspeakable things to him if he hurt her.

"Well, Kitty, at least you don't seem to've kept any other psychopathic ex-boyfriends in your old locker here," he quipped, alluding to the time Colossus had come within an inch of killing him in a fit of jealous madness. After being subdued and undergoing therapy the giant Russian finally learned to accept Kitty's choice. But it was a terrible time for everyone: Piotr had opened the back door to the dark recesses of his mind and soul and had been horrified to discover what he was capable of, Peter was confronted with his mortality, and Kitty, besides worrying if her lover would survive, was reminded in the most unpleasant way imaginable that she had not known Colossus as well as she thought she had.

So it was hardly surprising that both Pete's and Kitty's smiles were a bit forced. But luckily they discovered that they were standing under the mistletoe and soon were kissing as if there was no tomorrow.

Late in the afternoon, they all assembled around the big table in the dining room for the big Christmas dinner. Professor Xavier sitting at the head said grace and then set about carving the turkey. Most of the seventeen at the table partook of the bird, although some preferred Ororo's vegetarian option, a spicy mushroom dish. And a few had a little bit of both.

The two youngest guests sat near the head of the table, Irene on a raised chair next to her mother (she was primarily interested in the applesauce), and Timmy Jones on Charles Xavier's right hand. His mother, a detective with the NYPD, could not be there, as she had been saddled with the Christmas late shift. But in a couple of days she, Warren and Timmy would go on a vacation together. Years ago, when Warren had first started dating Charlotte Jones, Timmy's grandmother had been unhappy that her son's widow was going out with Warren, whose family was as WASP as it got. But Timmy had liked his mother's new admirer and had defended him with the words: "He's not a black man or a white man, he's a blue man." And as luck would have it, he now sat where most blueskins at the long table were clustered: Warren sat next to him, and across the linen, china and flowers he could see Irene Cooper and Nightcrawler.

Lockheed was perched on Kitty's shoulder, with his tail curled around the back of her neck. Every now and then she handed a morsel to Lockheed, while conversing with her neighbors Bishop and Wanda, two of the people she knew least about. She talked mostly with the former XSE operative from the future, as the Scarlet Witch was a lot more busy on her other side, talking with Raven Darhhölme, and her own father. At the bottom of the table sat Storm, with Dani and Magnus on her left and right. She raised her glass and offered a toast: "To absent friends!"

There were a lot of them to remember: Scott, Alex and Lorna in Alaska, the other party in Snow Valley, Logan somewhere in the Great White North, Hank in the Midwest, Rachel, Sean, Moira and Rahne on Muir Island, Betsy and the remaining members of Excalibur in Braddock Manor, and so on. Looking across the length of the table at Charles, Ororo saw a far away look in his eyes -- he probably was thinking of his consort, Majestrix Lilandra, painfully aware that he could no longer contact her telepathically. Storm herself thought of Forge, whom she had invited to spend the holidays in Westchester, but who said it was more important for him to stay in Washington with the X-Factor skeleton crew. As if it wouldn't have been easier to bring them with him so they could take off from New York in an emergency. She felt a tear coming on. Did this mean it was finally over between them?

Raven was relaxed as she always was, at least on the outside. Under her foster-daughter's eyes she made pleasant conversation with Magneto and Wanda Maximoff, cheerfully remarking that since Magnus and her foster-daughter lived together, they were now all family. A remark the Scarlet Witch took a while to digest. Danielle Moonstar gave Rogue tips on how to run a super-team, giving her the advantage of her experiences as co-leader of the New Mutants. On Rogue's left, Pete Wisdom listened incredulously to an assortment of horror stories Illyana told him about her former roommate Kitty.

Finally, over desserts, Magneto proposed another toast: "To Charles's dream. We may not always agree on how much of it will ever become a reality, and we may sometimes fight over the best road to get there..." he looked along the table and back -- at Raven, the former terrorist and now government agent, at Wanda, the government-sanctioned superheroine, Bishop, the paramilitary from the future, at Valerie Cooper, the politician, at Warren, who once has sworn by covert operations and hidden agendas, and at the other X-Men at the table, who belonged to a group that for all the changing climate still basically operated illegally -- before lifting his glass to the man who for decades had been his other, different self, Charles Xavier: "... but it was and is a dream worth having, and a dream worth fighting for."


Concluded in the Epilogue


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